Bronco golf begins season at home in Sonny Wiginton Intercollegiate

Left to right: sophomore team captain Aaron Troilo with his freshman teammates: Gift Zulu, Christian Mumba,Boyd Kapalamoto, Prin Phokan and Robert Choi.

NMMI Sports Press

The Bronco golf team will officially start their spring season at home Sunday with a tournament that’s anything but easy.

The second annual Sonny Wiginton Intercollegiate will feature six teams, including the top three ranked junior college teams in the country.

“The No. 1, 2 and 3 teams in the country will be here, along with probably five or six of the top individual players in the country on those teams,” said head NMMI coach Andy Robertson. “Our guys have a lot of work to do, but it’ll be interesting because we too are on the rise. I’m really anxious to see what’s going on.”

NMMI has a six-player squad this year, led by five freshmen.

Aaron Troilo, a sophomore from Michigan who’ll follow his brother – a former NMMI cadet – to the Air Force Academy, is the only holdover.

Leading the pack of freshmen is Prin Phokan from Thailand, who qualified at No. 1. Swaziland native Gift Zulu moved from No. 4 in the fall to No. 2; while Boyd Kapalamoto, Zambia, is at No. 3; Chris Mumba, Zambia, No. 4; and Hawaiian Robert Choi at No. 5.

Mumba was a last minute addition to the team and Robertson was very pleased with NMMI Admissions team to bring the African to NMMI on very short notice.

“Everybody did a heck of a job really helping me out,” the coach said. “He’s here. He’s playing and so we’re very happy.”

And overall, Robertson said, the team has worked hard.

“We had to get used to college golf and what it was all about and we’ve done that,” he said. “Now, just through six rounds of qualifying, we are five shots better per round as a team than we were in the fall. So I’m hoping to see if that carries over to actual college competition and tournaments, because if it does, we might have to be reckoned with.”

“I think we have a strong five, and to get four scores out of those five I’m hoping that it’s very positive.”

The scores will need to be strong to compete with the teams coming to NMMI on Sunday.

No. 1-ranked McLennan Community College will be competing; Odessa College sits at No. 2 and won last year’s team title at the NJCAA National Championships; Midland College, another conference opponent, is currently ranked No. 3 nationally; New Mexico Junior College also plays in the WJCAC and holds the No. 12 slot in this week’s national poll; Garden City Community College from Kansas has received votes in the national poll and is ranked in the top 25.

Of these six teams playing, four belong to what Robertson said is hands-down the best conference in the country: the Western Junior College Athletic Conference.

“Our coaches do a great job of recruiting and it’s always strong competition. Such competition brings the best out of you so you can’t ask for anything more,” he said.

Historically, he said, a WJCAC team has been the national champion seven or eight years out of 10.

But the Wiginton won’t be the only chance for local fans to see the tough conference teams. After the golf course originally slated to host the conference championship had to back out, Robertson suggested the NMMI Golf Course and the other coaches agreed. So after more than a month on the road, the Broncos will be back home in late April for the WJCAC Championships.

Robertson said the NMMI course will be tough for everyone competing, with changes made for last year’s Wiginton Intercollegiate being kept for this year’s tournaments.

“In the past, junior college players came here and shot 62s and 63s and just tore this place up,” the coach said. “We wanted to make it more of a challenge, so we’ve put in 10 new tees and we have lengthened the course to 7,028 yards from 6,500”.

Holes 1 and 18, which are par 5s for the public, are now par 4s for the collegiate golfers, reducing par from 72 down to 70.

These changes will bring back the original course design to counter today’s big hitters and bring back into play the tree lines. The course won’t be as wide open as in the past and will require golfers to place a premium on keeping it in play more.

The course record from the new championship tees was set last year by an NMJC golfer, who shot a 3-under 67, but then came back with a 77 on his second round. That, the coach said, shows how tough the course is now.

“College golfers now have to compete hard,” Robertson said. “If you were to look on TV at the PGA, when they go to par 70 and it’s over 7,000, that’s pretty strong. It is a challenge but it’s a good challenge and we look forward to seeing how we stand up.”

And Sonny Wiginton would most likely be quite proud of the tough golf NMMI will be playing.

“Wiggs” as he was affectionately called by his friends and colleagues, led the Bronco golf program from 1989 until his retirement in 2002. In that time he produced 13 NJCAA All-Americans and took 15 teams to the national championships. About half or so of the thirteen went on to become pro golfers, including Norahito Sato, a ’90 All-American who played in the Masters and four times in the British Open; Gary Orr, an ’87 All-American who played in the British Open several times with a best 41st-place finish in 2000 and in the US Open with a 74th placing in 2001; Michael Krantz, an ’83 All-American who played in the Open; and David Tasker, who went on to Texas A&M and is a professional golfer.

“He was a heck of a recruiter from everywhere around the world,” Robertson said of Wiginton.

This Sunday’s tournament is a one-day, 36-hole affair that keeps the players on the course from the 8 a.m. shotgun start until early evening.

“These kids are constantly on the golf course. There is no after 18 come sit down, talk, have lunch. It’s just go,” Robertson said. “They’re eating as they’re walking – take a shot then eat some more.”

Players, coaches and fans will be able to eat from a hot dog wagon hosted by the pro shop, and fans are not only welcome to watch, they’re encouraged.

“The public is always invited to come and watch and you’ll see some outstanding golf. Good individuals; good kids who put forth their craft,” Robertson said. “We’re very proud of this tournament. I think it’s a good deal. We go 36 holes. Most tournaments are 54, but we go 36 on a Sunday so you can come in, get it done, leave on a Sunday and not miss any school.”

Standing in front of the list of NMMI’s All-American golfers, Bronco men’s head golf coach Andy Robertson holds up one of the individual trophies for the Second Annual Sonny Wiginton Intercollegiate.

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